With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to keep distance from each other, businesses have responded in various ways, with the global economy exploring alternative arrangements in order to continue functioning.
One such alternative arrangement is telehealth, which uses information technology to remotely deliver health care services to customers. According to Gordon Watson (pictured), CEO of AXA Asia, appetite for telehealth is on the rise, and this has been accelerated by the pandemic.
He revealed that AXA’s partners in Indonesia, Halodoc and Alodokter, have seen 300% and 150% growth in active usage of telehealth services respectively since the COVID-19 outbreak began. In the Philippines, MyPocketDoctor has seen a ten-fold increase in the utilization of telehealth services.
Meanwhile, in mainland China, major online medical service provider Tencent Trusted Doctors recorded an increase of 460,000 new users from January 29 to February 29. Around 15,000 doctors have used the online service to provide free anti-coronavirus consultations, reaching over six million patients during said period.
What are the benefits of telehealth?
“While the telehealth concept has been around for a few years, the current crisis has revealed the vital role it plays as part of the wider healthcare system,” Watson told Insurance Business. “Amid the pandemic, healthcare services are all focused on tackling one dominant issue. Hospitals are overwhelmed and people find it challenging to get medical advice or even simply get support for routine medical issues. Telehealth helps to alleviate the burden of the stretched healthcare system and diverts customers away from overcrowded hospitals.”
Telehealth, according to Watson, also improves people’s access to healthcare. By leveraging mobile technology, it offers a more affordable and more efficient alternative to in-office visits, for both patients and medical providers.
“As a remote service, telehealth also makes support for mental health needs more accessible by making it available through a discreet, personal channel in societies where visiting a psychologist can still carry social stigma, while also opening up access to often limited resources for people living in under-served areas,” he added.
According to Watson, AXA has been investing in telehealth for quite some time, and the outbreak of COVID-19 has accelerated the roll-out of these services through its key partners in the region. This, he said, has allowed AXA to facilitate free consultations for around 6.5 million of its policyholders in Asia.
“Apart from focusing on addressing physical health needs, we also see telehealth as an opportunity to ensure that mental health is being effectively addressed to support the holistic wellbeing of our customers,” Watson said. “The accumulated stress of the current situation, exacerbated by uncertainty, has posed a heavy burden on people juggling the added challenges of the disrupted, merged spheres of home and work.
“In Indonesia, we have already rolled out free mental wellness counselling provided by psychologists and are working to extend such support in more markets across the region such as mainland China, where society is beginning to adjust to a post-COVID-19 era.”
A rapidly growing market
Watson predicted that the global telehealth market is expected to reach US$130 billion by 2025, especially with COVID-19 highlighting its importance. Governments around the world, including the US and Japan, are now encouraging the adoption of such services.
Telehealth, while mostly focused on remote consultation services, has other aspects to it too. Watson said that, globally, AXA has been partnering with different start-up incubators to work on teleservices that extend to elderly care and reproductive fertility assistance.
“Globally, there will be a renewed appreciation for the healthcare services we use every day and, in tandem, innovation within healthcare to enable us to be better prepared for future challenges, where telehealth can play a part,” he said. “We expect to see people being more open to such services after COVID-19, and continued expansion of services to more people.”